BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 19, 2019– Submissions were made in the Supreme Court of Justice Michelle Arana this morning in a constitutional claim brought by Hillaire Sears, a prisoner at the Belize Central Prison, who has sued the Parole Board for violating his constitutional rights.
The Ministry of National Security and the Attorney General are also named as defendants in the claim. At the end of the hearing, Justice Arana indicated to the parties that the court would issue its ruling at a future date.
Sears was accused of the March 18, 2001 murder of Rodwell Neal and was convicted of manslaughter on December 12, 2002; he was sentenced to life in prison. After serving 10 years behind bars, however, Sears was released on parole.
Sears’ parole was revoked after tests indicated that he had used cannabis.
In her oral submissions to the court, Leslie Mendez, Sears’s attorney, argued that the Parole Board violated his rights because he was not given an opportunity to present his case when his parole was revoked.
Sears, who was employed at the prison at the time when the allegation that he had violated one of the conditions of his parole was made, suddenly found himself under lockdown at the prison. He was on lockdown for 55 days before he was brought before the Parole Board and told that he had violated one of the conditions of his parole, and that his parole had been revoked.
After the hearing, Mendez explained to reporters the basis of her client’s constitutional claim.
“The constitutional claim really challenges certain actions by prison guards in detaining him at the prison while he was working at the prison on parole. So, they detained him without an official decision being made to revoke his parole. This happened for 55 days. And then they revoked his parole. The other part of the claim is also challenging, constitutionally, the decision to revoke his parole,” she said.
She then explained, “Basically, what we’re saying, the procedural fairness mandated that before you revoke his parole, you were supposed to give him an opportunity to be heard before revoking his parole, and this was never done.
“We also say that … when you are revoking parole or when you are granting parole, the main consideration is whether or not he poses a threat to public safety, and this was not done. What happened was that there was a mechanical approach to the breach of the condition of the parole which says ‘you breached the condition of the parole, your parole is revoked.’ The cases say that procedural fairness does not set out and does not legitimize such an approach.”
Mendez was asked what condition of his parole Sears violated.
“I believe that it was a condition that he not use drugs and in this case, there was a test that showed, he tested positive for cannabis. And so immediately after that test came, there was the decision to revoke his parole. Further conditions could have been imposed as opposed to revoking his parole,” Mendez said.
The state’s case was presented by Crown Counsel Leona Duncan, who works out of the Solicitor General’s office.